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they grew up surrounded by the sea and well. but what happened to young people here could have happened anywhere. >> there was a group of us quite frequently after school, we'd just hang out. >> he was a promising young surfer. and a son to make a mother proud. >> he was incredible. he was like a rocket. >> they were former football teammates.
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they played and partied hard. but how did a night out with friends -- >> i had an unsettling feeling in the pit of my stomach. >> end with the death of that rising star of the surf. >> i just knew. it's emory, isn't it? he said, yes. >> prosecutors called it murder. these friends said it was a tragic accident. >> it was a fluke. and unfortunately, emother died. >> one young life lost. >> i'm screaming, emory, emory, emory, please! >> five more on the line. >> it's a wake-up call for parents. >> the surfer and the bird rock bandits. >> good evening. welcome to "dateline." i'm ann curry. it's the kind of place where the great unknown in most teenager's lives is what college they'll attend. but not long ago a wealthy beach community found itself trying to understand what would lead to
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privileged young people to turn on one of their own. here's keith morrison. >> reporter: there's a place where the hills slope down to the rolling pacific are a manicured green. a place from whose estates the well-to-do can see forever. from whose celebrated schools the offspring leap to their ivy league careers. where even nature has conspired to roll out a town-sized climate sweet spot here above the sto storied surf. in the jewel by the sea, la jolla, california. the book of crime is thin here. bad things surely should happen in less rarefied zip codes than this and yet, of course, happen they do. >> this is emory. hi, emory. i love you. >> and here he is, the california golden boy, bursting
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with his possibilities. ignorant of his imminent fate. >> surfing is my passion. even if i don't make money off surfing, i'll always surf because it's my passion. >> reporter: his name is emory. right here on this video. he was on the cusp of his life's ambition. >> he was incredible. he could fly through the air just like a rocket. he just enjoyed the ocean. >> reporter: here's emory's mother cindy who you'll notice is talking about her son in the past tense. >> a really happy guy. he had a bright smile. he was always smiling. he just lit up the room when he walked into it. always excited about everything and everybody's business. >> reporter: though it was emory's girlfriend jenny grosso who would figure so prominently in the mystery of that one terrible moment. >> he always had that spirit in him ha was useful and look at
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things and be curious and amazed by them. >> reporter: but what was before it happened, of course. and ultimately before, for emory, was the island of kauai where he grew up on world famous beaches. this is his little brother nigel. >> we did everything together. best friends. i always looked at him and said, i don't know what i'd do if i lost you. >> reporter: from the start, emory's family saw something special in him. and in his way with the waves. >> started with a little boogie board. then he kind of graduated to learn how to surf the inside reef and he'd start picking up waves a little bit. then a hurricane hit the island. >> reporter: in 1992 when emory was 9, hurricane iniki devastated kauai and devastated cindy, too. so no home, no job after the storm, she picked up her sons and left for california. >> i just had a focus of supporting my kids and then surviving. >> reporter: she leaned on churches, family, the red cross. >> my mom came out here with
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nothing, you know? kind of hard but we did what we had to do. >> reporter: and she made it. founded a modelling agency for the surfer look which did very well. >> we bought a house in la jolla. >> reporter: not a mansion, mind you. still, buying a house on la jolla was a big deal. >> yeah, that was a huge blessing. huge blessing. >> reporter: a blessing indeed. la jolla, the place so many strive to call home and yes, this. in the sports that helped define la jolla, it would be like golf's pebble beach. but la jolla can be an insular place. wind and sea doesn't just welcome just anybody. which emory discovered as a teenager. >> when he first started surfing there, being that he's hawaiian, they were rough on him. >> reporter: they don't welcome
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outsiders. >> no, they weren't very welcoming all right but emory was like a rocket on his board. >> he proved himself on his own, really. after a while. they kind of, wow, he's really good. >> reporter: so he belongs here. >> he kind of earned their respect, yeah. then he got better and better. so all the photographers who would go down there and want to film him. >> reporter: his girlfriend jenny was on the beach with the rest of them. >> very good looking, he was charming, he was one of the best surfers in la jolla. >> reporter: he was so good, our golden boy, as he filled his trophy case and won his prizes, that eventually the sponsors came sniffing around, talking real money. thus the opportunity, once just an idle dream, to make his living this way. he was going pro. >> i remember him just crying, i can't believe it. i said, well, you deserve it. really proud of him. >> reporter: but this was still just anticipated success here in lucky little la jolla. for all his promise in the
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water, emory at 24, was still living in his mother's house, his future unsecured. which was not unlike the whole group of young la jolla men, raised and schooled here, who now drifted unfocused down affluent avenues toward the seminal event of their lives. remarkable really that this place of so much promise and privilege would become the stage for what happened. for the sort of occasion that can knock out dreams in an instant. coming up -- early signs of trouble in paradise. >> you're like, oh, there's a fight again. you know? there's the bird rock bandits. [ woman ] nine iron, it's almost tee-time...
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time to face the pollen that used to make me sneeze... my eyes water. but now zyrtec®, the fastest 24-hour allergy relief, comes in a liquid gel. zyrtec® liquid gels work fast, so i can love the air®. >> reporter: it's a beautiful place, la jolla, with its preservation minded downtown, parks, famous waves, beaches, lovely homes, privileged, wealthy, emery kauanui's mother cindy found a way in and succeeded. now emery, the budding surfing pro, was at the precipice of everything he thought he always wanted, here in la jolla. but every town, rich or poor, has its best neighborhoods and some a little less so. some that could slide modestly anonymous into any town anywhere, such as the la jolla neighborhood they call bird rock. here is where in elementary
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school back in the mid-'90s a group of little boys solidified a lifelong bond. little kid named eric house, for example. here's another, hank hendricks. like any pack, people, wolves, you name it, they gravitated to their alpha male, a strapping big kid named seth craven who happened to be the 13th of his parents' 14 children. a charismatic child, said his father bill. >> he was very outgoing. as a child, when anybody he would meet, he has these very pretty eyes. and that has been an attraction. >> reporter: jenny grosso, who later became emery's girlfriend was friendly with seth in middle school. >> there was a group of us that would just hang out and come eat sandwiches after school in my garage and listen to the 'n sync cd and, you know, we were kids. >> reporter: but emery's younger brother nigel saw a different side of seth craven. >> the first day i met him, he tried to fight me.
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sixth grade. this guy's been a bully since he was a kid. >> reporter: a bully? well, perspective can change a lot of things about the way you see a person. in those early years the little boys bunched together on their tee-ball games an on their skateboards and somewhere along the way perhaps in elementary school or middle school, they gave themselves a nickname. the bird rock bandits. by the time the new millennium rolled around they shortened that to brb or just the bandits. seth cravens and his pals were still in high school by then, popular, good looking, football players all. >> down to the 35 yard line. >> he always had girlfriends. >> he was the center of attention a lot of the time. >> reporter: but in this elite la jolla public high school, the bandits sometimes got attention for the wrong reasons. >> they came into our school with a reputation of getting in trouble and fighting and partying.
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>> reporter: la jolla high school football coach and history teacher dave ponsford knew the boys all too well. he tried to rein them in, but with limited success. one of the bandits, eric house, was an all-league player, but off the field he ran into trouble with the law, earning him a juvenile record. other bandits had problems, too, in school and out. but of all of them in this little pack, it was hank hendricks who seemed to be going places. a bandit, yes, but also a standout guy. a quarterback nicknamed "the swan." hank even grew close to doug flutie, the heisman trophy winner and la jolla resident. >> i had hank in u.s. history. he knew a lot of people. he was comfortable with a lot of different groups. >> reporter: the alpha male, seth cravens? well, he loved playing football, but not for nothing was his nickname "mooseknuckle." >> seth was physically imposing but as a football player didn't have that ability to just plug
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into what his responsibilities were. >> reporter: maybe because the team he seemed to care most about was the bird rock bandits. he was sort of a ringleader of that group? >> he was a bit of a leader. the others, with the exception of hank, were a bit more of a follower type. and rather easily led maybe. >> reporter: la jolla high sends 90% of its students off to college, an exceptional number. but among the five bird rock bandits, hank hendricks made the football team at the university of new hampshire. and the rest? slouched out of their teens in full drift, living with parents, dabbling in community colleges, working odd jobs, going apparently nowhere. >> they never got out of la jolla, they never got out of that mind-set. >> reporter: seth cravens' father fretted over his son's apparent lack of direction. >> some of the children kind of get it, how things work. seth is one who kind of didn't get it about having to discipline yourself, having to
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get up in the morning and go to work, go to school. >> reporter: instead seth and friends gathered at bars and parties and on the sand above a certain surfing spot, wind and sea, remember? emery's beach. but the bandits weren't there for the rolling surf. >> they would just get drunk, beyond belligerent drunk all day long. i'd go down and watch emery at wind and sea and see a group of people rushing together. oh, there's a fight again. you know? there's the bird rock bandits. >> reporter: but whatever others thought of them, the bandits were deeply loyal to each other. and especially protective of eric house. a year younger, the kid brother of the group. and together they drifted about. young men who somehow failed to get, to leave la jolla. but then why would they leave when so many others aspire to live here? and life was fine and fun and easy. emery was preparing to soar but he wasn't quite there yet. and in the meantime socialized
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happily at some of the very same places where the bird rock bandits sharp-elbowed their way around. emery was no bandit but like the other stay-at-homes he had also made the police blotter. occasions where his temper and his fists may have outrun good judgment. it was a phase that emery had about wore out in 2007 as he told his mother cindy. >> come fall, i'll get my basics and transfer to vero beach. >> reporter: if only he'd returned to hawaii a little sooner. it was a tuesday night, late may 2007. a local bar was having a surf event. emery was there, so was his girlfriend jenny. and so were the bird rock bandits, celebrating because hank hendricks was home from college for a visit. seth cravens had e-mailed his buddies. "tonight we rage. swan is on a plane coming home.
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it is going to get nasty." >> they walk in and ready to start trouble. >> reporter: here in this bar spirits rose and then flew beyond control. and in their alcoholic haze, they had no idea that the clock was ticking through its last minutes down toward the defining moment of all their lives. coming up -- a spilled drink, angry words and then -- >> his eyes are closed. he looks like he's dead. i'm screaming. emery, emery!
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we all knew that bird rock bandit thing and nobody really took it seriously because it was ridiculous. it was la jolla. >> reporter: la jolla, california, may 23rd, 2007. the la jolla brew house was buzzing. a video camera was there to capture it. here is emery kauanui, 24 years
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old. had no idea what was coming this very evening. jenny grosso was with him. >> we're all socializing and talking. we're dancing, we're having fun. >> reporter: that's when the bird rock bandits arrived. hank hendricks, aka, the swan, was home from the university of new hampshire. seth cravens e-mailed his friends, tonight we rage. swan on the plane home. it will get nasty. >> the vibe became very uneasy when they walked in there. >> reporter: in the bar? >> yeah, definitely. they're walking in like ready to start trouble. >> reporter: but jenny and seth had always been friendly if not exactly friends. >> seth comes up to me and i give him a hug, he said, oh, i smoked seven blunts today. i was like, oh, wonderful, seth, that's -- you know, that's great. but he was nice to me and him and emery exchanged probably like a handshake or a high five or whatever. but there was no tension. it was fine.
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>> reporter: emery spent a few moments with eric house, one of the bandits. their meeting captured here on camera. then, as the clock ticked to its awful climax, the booze bit by bit stripped away the tenuous civility. tongues slurred, balance slipped, noise ruled. >> bird rock! >> [ bleep ] >> brb! >> the bandits! >> reporter: and then, it was just a garden variety mishap really, but it was enough. though still no one understood what was beginning here. >> really close quarters, so we're bumping into people. then emery's drink spilled. eric was right there. next to us. somehow emery's drink went on to eric just a little bit. but that's all it need for an uproar. and yelling going on. and eric saying, oh, what the f! you just spilled a drink on me. emery apologized for it and kind of made a joke out of it, then he spilt it on himself.
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look, it's not a big deal a drink on your shirt. >> reporter: it was apparently not the right thing to do. >> they didn't like that at all. then seth chimes in, like, uh-oh emery, you better watch out. because eric will [ bleep ] you up. then emery gets offended by that. like exchange of -- yelling at each other. >> reporter: full bore testosterone now. neither one would let it go. management asked them to leave the bar. >> so we leave. we get in the car. i'm driving him home. all of a sudden emery is on the phone and they're shouting. and saying, oh, no, i'm not going to fight you. how are you going to do that to me in front of my chick. >> reporter: it was just after 1:00 a.m. by now. they'd arrived back at emery's house. he was still on the phone shouting. the noise awakened a neighbor. jenny made him get off the phone, calmed him down. now there was another problem. jenny had driven emery home but her own car was still parked at the bar. as she walked a few blocks back to the bar to get it --
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>> i had an unsettling feeling in my stomach. none of this is good. these guys are really amped up. so i start running. >> reporter: jenny took a shortcut down an alley behind the bar and saw the bandits huddled together, seth talking. >> i hear seth's voice, and the first thing i hear him say, let's go, let's go [ bleep ] him up. i know where he lives. don't call him, don't call him. so i start screaming. i'm like -- seth, seth! no, no, what are you doing? stop! he turns around and looks at me and doesn't even acknowledge me. he just has a blank stare on his face. i'm like, no! and they jump into a car and they drive right by me. >> reporter: jenny called emery, no answer. she dialed 911. she ran to her car and roared back to the house. >> i turn the corner, and then i see this mob that's on top of him. >> reporter: emery was down, she said, four bandits pummeling him. a fifth who she didn't know was standing off to the side, watching. >> i was kicking and punching holding my horn down.
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screaming, stop, please stop! >> reporter: she got in the middle of it, she said. most pulled back. but there was eric house on top of the dazed emery. >> he's not fighting back. his eyes are open. but they're rolling and dazing. so i start kicking eric as hard as i can. i'm -- they're screaming, you're crazy. get the [ bleep ] out of here. then i feel hands pull me off of eric. >> reporter: it was the fifth man, the one who had been watching. >> then eric gets off and he must have been tired. so at some point he just got off of him. >> reporter: several neighbors witnessing the fight called 911. >> there's something real crazy going on outside my house. >> reporter: what happened next would make all the difference. this is what jenny says she saw. >> emery's up at this point. his hands are down, almost like a submissive defeat position. and he makes a comment directly to seth. how the -- do you come to my house and jump me in front of my house?
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like why would you come to my house? why would you do that? >> reporter: the answer came very quickly. seth cravens raised his arms and clenched his fist and foretold the future. >> seth walks up to him and gives him the hardest punch, i mean, a knockout punch. emery, you can see it, the lights go out. he falls straight back on to the ground. you hear his head crack when it hits the pavement, and then blood, just a pool of blood just pours from his head. his eyes are closed. he looks like he's dead. and i'm screaming, emery, you know, emery, emery, please! then i just look at seth and started screaming, look what you did! >> reporter: still, it didn't stop, said jenny. two of the others kicked emery hard. later neighbors claim they saw seth or one of the others check emery's pulse. one heard someone say, i'm sorry. two of them were still on with 911. >> there's a guy on the street lying on the floor. >> he's bleeding from the back of his head.
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>> reporter: the bandits fled, save for eric who was looking for a lost tooth. police arrive soon after. eric was taken into custody. an ambulance was summoned for emery. he was bleeding from the back of his head, but he was alive. he was rushed to the hospital. and thousands of miles away in hawaii, emery's mother cindy answered the phone. >> i think god lets moms know. because i felt something. >> reporter: coming up -- emery's new battle to survive. >> then the pastor came in and he said to me, you've had your son for 24 years. you need to release him back to god.
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>> reporter: it was 9:00 a.m., may 24th, 2007. cindy kauanui was on business in hawaii. the phone rang. >> i got a call about 9:00 in the morning. and it was my neighbor across the street that called me. >> reporter: it was ten hours since the punks had slammed emery's head on to the street back in la jolla, california. >> she said, something's happened. and i knew. i just knew. it's emery, isn't it? they said, yeah.
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i just hung up the phone. >> reporter: she rushed to the airport. it was evening in la jolla by the time she arrived. >> and i got to talk to him, and he was conscious. but he couldn't keep his eyes open, you know? he was on morphine. >> reporter: what did he look like? >> he actually looked like emery. he didn't have any black eyes or any blood or any -- nothing. everything was more to the back of his head, so i didn't see that. >> reporter: emery was able to talk a little. he told his mother about the fight, how seth cravens hit him, knocked him down. she thought, he's getting better. >> he was in stable condition at that time. >> reporter: among the bird rock bandits, nothing was stable. eric house, remember, had been arrested when police arrived in the early hours of may 24th. he was released later that day. some of the others spent the night holed up at one of their homes, just a few blocks from emery's.fbhñ over the next few days the bird
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rock bandits would compare notes on the fight and explain to their families what happened and wait for things to blow over. but at the hospital, it wasn't blowing over. the injury to emery's head had caused swelling in his brain. there was an emergency operation. apparently successful. >> he was just resting. they gave him air to breathe. and his hands were bandaged up. i'm not going to let go, junior, i'm not going. i'm not going to leave you. >> reporter: relief. emery's prospect looked promising. cindy kept vigil by his bedside, waiting to hear his voice once more. but head injuries, dangerous and unpredictable, exact whatever toll they will, no matter what the doctors do. >> but then his brain continued to swell. the doctor pulled me aside and said there's nothing more we can do. in other words, he's either
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going to be brain dead or he's going to die. >> reporter: but he'd been talking. he seemed okay. cindy refused to accept what she was told. >> i just wanted to believe that somehow he could be healed, that somehow a miracle would happen and he would be healed. i didn't want to let go at all. i just didn't want to believe it was happening, i guess. i don't know. nobody did. and then the pastor came in and he said, cindy, you've had your son for 24 years. he belongs to god. and just like abraham had to give isaac up on the altar, you need to give your son up, you need to release him back to god. of course inside you don't want to do that but you know that we're just caretakers of our kids. we're just -- they don't really belong to us. you know what i mean? we're just their steward taking care of them.
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so i just wanted to do the right thing. so he said a prayer and i repeated after him. and i said i give you my son. i give him back to you. you gave him to you for 24 years. i give him back to you. and then he died shortly after that. >> reporter: emery kauanui, age 24, died on may 28th, 2007. the official cause of death, blunt force trauma to the head. the news spread quickly. sara cravens, seth's sister -- >> he thought emery was going to be okay. and then later that day, he called and said that emery had died. >> reporter: how did he take it? >> very hard. i mean, he was sitting on the floor and hunched over and just crying. you know, that's my brother. it was very hard for him. i know what a tender heart seth has and how much he cares for people. >> reporter: but the news of
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emery's death was of interest not just to his family or the bird rock bandits. >> i received a call at about noon saying that there was a young man in the trauma center who had just died and he'd been assaulted several days before. >> reporter: lieutenant kevin rooney heads up the san diego police department's homicide unit. >> we decided that it was appropriate to take four people into custody and arrest them for emery's death. >> reporter: police arrived at seth craven's home on may 29th, the day after emery died. >> our doorbell rang. there was two detectives and two cops in uniform. i went and got seth. >> reporter: did you see his face as he left the house? >> yeah. he had his head down. >> reporter: and around the town the same scene played out at three other homes. the bird rock band ets, la jolla native sons with all the advantages that that bestows.
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and now four of them were charged with murder. and soon the case would grow. new allegations about the bird rock bandits' past. >> this wasn't the first time this ever happened. [ female announcer ] imagine skin so healthy, it never gets dry again.
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can your moisturizer do that? [ female announcer ] dermatologist recommended aveeno has an oat formula, now proven to build a moisture reserve, so skin can replenish itself. that's healthy skin for life. only from aveeno. even as young emery kauanui flew through the surf to his
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prizes, accolades, potentially lucrative career, he indulged with his mother an odd fascination. >> we would talk about death. >> reporter: it was idle chatter, of course. a boy's hypothetical foolishness when emery talked to his mother about what to do in the event of his death. >> he actually told me where he would want his ashes spread. i said okay. >> reporter: but now she went about the awful business of doing just what he asked her to do. >> when you're a surfer, you want to be back in the ocean. that's where you spent most of your time. >> reporter: there is a somber tradition among the little tribes that live to ride the surf. this to mark an untimely death. paddle-outs, they call them. for emery, a ceremony in california, and another full of hawaiian tradition in kauai. that's cindy right there, emery's mom, spreading his ashes on the water. at wind and sea, the locals
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named a break after him. emery's left, where he was a goofy foot, as the surfers would say, he used his left foot to balance the board. >> you remember every age. if i see a 3-year-old holding his mom's hand, i remember when he did that. >> reporter: yet it was not just emery's death that saddened cindy. it was also the spectacle of those four young men in court charged with his murder. >> they were all chained together in a row. i just felt sad. i felt sad for them, too, because they're so young. you know? and i think of the dishonor that they brought to their families, the shame that they brought to their parents. >> reporter: but among those parents, it wasn't so much shame as apprehension, confusion, self-doubt. bill cravens is seth's dad. >> you want to be able to protect them. you almost would like to trade places with them. you think as a parent you're more capable of taking the blow. and i think that's what happens
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when we have a child that is in prison or any kind of difficulty. >> reporter: seth's mom, karen cravens, was baffled by the murder charges. as far as she was concerned and parents of the other bandits too, what happened to emery was just an accident, a fight among boys that just got out of control. >> it's blown way out of proportion. when seth hit in self-defense, there was no murderous intent in his heart. emery was his friend. >> reporter: but there it was, the shocking news that in la jolla, of all places, four young men, middle class kids, were sitting in jail charged with murder. >> such a sensational thing, five young men beating up on one even though the evidence was there to go away from that. >> reporter: wait a minute. five young men? well, in fact, one of the bandits had so far avoided the spotlight and the law. hank hendricks. the bandit who had become a college football player was
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preparing to return to his studies in new hampshire. >> he had read in the paper about the incident and they were looking for another guy and he knew it was him. >> reporter: he hadn't been named because jenny grosso didn't know his name. hank was the fifth man. he watched it happen. didn't take part, but did prevent jenny from helping her boyfriend. and so hank went to talk with investigators. he told his la jolla high school football coach dave ponsford about the conversation. >> he went down and gave them his version of what happened. the police told him to go back to new hampshire and not worry about it, that he was not a person of interest. >> reporter: so hank headed back to college just a witness, so far as he knew. he and the rest of the bandits unaware of the blowback their antics had aroused around the san diego area. many people recognized the bird rock bandits' faces from all the storieses in the media. they were calling the police to report troubling incidents from weeks, months, even years earlier. lieutenant kevin rooney of san
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diego homicide -- >> we started to receive two to three dozen phone calls saying a range of things that, i know suspect so and so and he's been a bully since he was in grade school. to i was battered two years ago. >> reporter: detectives looked at each incident, combing over what evidence was available, calling what witnesses they could find. what emerged seemed to go far beyond that one night's deadly rage. >> this wasn't the first time this ever happened. people suffered some pretty significant injuries as a result of some of those prior assaults. >> reporter: new warrants went out, homes were searched and the detectives found some unusual items. drawings with swastikas and devils, hell's angels stickers, a knife and a pistol and many, many references to the bird rock bandits or brb for short.ñr in july, d.a.'s investigators
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filed this new court document detailing 15 other acts. it read like a road map of mayhem, criminal threats, beatdowns, brawls, sucker punches, parties at the beach seemingly at random. there were two commonalities in virtually all of the incidents -- alcohol and the punches of seth cravens. >> the question became were these activities consistent with a criminal street gang. >> reporter: criminal street gang. the label with serious implications. it could mean serious prison time for the bird rock bandits. here's why. at the end of the '80s, the crips and bloods terrorized the inner cities of southern california. their bloody war and the growing gangs of imitators inspired the state government to pass tough anti-gang laws imposing long punitive sentences for crimes involving gangs. but a criminal gang in la jolla?
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even those who feared them had always thought the bird rock bandits were a bit of a joke. >> anyone knows la jolla. basically comparable to saying you're the beverly hills bandits, you know? it's laughable, really. >> reporter: prosecutor sofia roche thought it fit the circumstances perfectly. >> a gang is essentially an organization that terrorizes a community. >> reporter: those other street gangs like look at these bird rock bandits and raise their eyebrows and i spit on you. >> absolutely. every gang has an origination. they start off as small groups of people and they evolve. >> reporter: time, the d.a. decided, to ratchet things up where, on september 4th, 2007, a local bombshell, three of them, actually. in the d.a.'s view hank hendricks was no longer a witness but a participant. he was indicted for murder and called back from college. then the indictment for what were now five defendants was
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amended to add in 15 additional crimes from the past. and perhaps the day's biggest surprise, the bird rock bandits, the lifelong friends raised in a town of privilege and opportunity, were charged as a criminal street gang. if they were convicted for the added enhancement of gang charges, the bird rock bandits would have ten or more years of additional prison time tacked on to their sentences. all of this triggered by a street fight. would any of it stick? the prosecutor had a lot to prove. and standing in her way, one go for the jugular defense attorney. >> wasn't exactly like we were dealing with the la cosa nostra. coming up -- why did this picture become a key exhibit for the defense? >> you recognize that? >> that's our president. it's the fusion proglide challenge. woow! hey man, how ya doin'? how's your shave?
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public attention is a fickle business. the wider world might never have heard of emery kauanui if he met his end in a less admired little town. and a year after his death in may 2008, a renewed spray of headlines accompanied the proceedings that are usually a legal formality. the preliminary hearing of the young men known as the bird rock bandits. headlines for a very similar reason. the word "gang" just didn't seem to fit la jolla, california. >> now this wealthy community is struggling to come to grips with a violent death of a popular surfer. >> a year ago rising surfing
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star emery kauanui got into a bar room quarrel. >> is the state ready to proceed? >> reporter: which is why, in fact, this often-ignored part of the process was about to become high drama. >> what we have are a pattern of gang activity. >> reporter: in addition to the murder charges against the bird rock bandits and the 15 other assault related charges, the prosecutor would be defending right here her ambitious attempt to add gang enhancements that could send the bandits away for many years. deputy d.a. sofia roche simplified for us the argument she made in court. were the bird rock bandits really a gang? >> yes. >> reporter: gangs deal in drugs and they carry guns around and they're tough and mean and live in the inner cities. and you know, they have tattoos on their backs. these people weren't like that. >> the problem is we have a stereotype in our mind about what a gang member is, but you can't do that. you have to look at objective criteria. and they met every single component.
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>> reporter: like what? >> they're a group of three or more people that have a common sign or symbol. they have a pattern of criminal activity. and it's that that differentiates them from a group of partiers. >> reporter: what's the difference? they went to bars, got drunk, occasionally had a few fistfights? >> occasionally? it's more than occasionally. >> reporter: it made a kind of sense to emery's mother cindy. >> they were trying to put fear into the community. it was like a power thing. and they would go around and prey on people. >> reporter: but even she wasn't sure the bird rock bandits qualified as a gang. at the cravens' house, the news that gang charges had been added seemed somehow surreal. >> it was hard to believe that they could even consider that possibility, and even more so when we understood the
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ramifications that it automatically adds ten years on to any sentence you're given. >> they essentially crashed the party, began beating up guests at the party. >> reporter: the prosecutor knew the gang enhancement would not be an easy sell legally. for one thing, the judge knew just how much more violent criminal gangs can be, having heard cases involving some of the worst in the state. the prosecutor offered up a gang expert who said he'd analyzed the bird rock bandits. >> they became very active during their last year of high school when they actually began to start making assaults. >> reporter: he said he looked carefully at their behavior, at their drawings and photos. >> hand signs representing the crew. >> reporter: of course, said the expert, there are significant criteria for designating the group as a gang. and the bird rock bandits met quite a few. a group of three or more wearing
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color, graffiti, intimidation. maybe they weren't the worst of gangs, but when the prosecutor asked her key question, she knew what the answer would be. >> do you have an opinion as to whether or not the bird rock bandits are, in fact, a criminal street gang? >> all the evidence that i've seen in my opinion they're a street gang. >> reporter: all the defendants had lawyers to argue the point, of course. >> they are the crips and the bloods. >> reporter: but this one was, shall we say, uncommonly passionate. her name is mary ellen attridge, seth craven's defense attorney. >> i thought it was something that i could creatively dismantle. >> reporter: as far as the gang idea was concerned, that was ludicrous, as far as you're concerned? >> yes, it was not only ludicrous but it was scary. they spent enormous amounts of hours and taxpayer dollars to label this group a gang when in fact they were just a bunch of post adolescents from a neighborhood. it wasn't exactly like we were
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dealing with la cosa nostra. and it was at once most laughable and frightening. >> reporter: when investigators took the stand, they all faced the same questioning from ms. attridge. >> did you ever hear of the bird rock bandits? >> no, i never heard that name until today, i believe.kl.ñ >> so you never saw any graffiti that reflected bird rock bandits, to your knowledge? >> not to my knowledge. >> reporter: her point was this, if the bird rock bandits were a gang, had been one for years, how come nobody in law enforcement knew about them? the defense noted other contradictions as well, like the fact that the so-called gang colors the bandits wore were really just their high school t-shirts. >> they showed a picture and seth has on a red t-shirt and that was proof -- they presented that as proof that he's part of a gang because red is their color.
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>> reporter: and how about those hand signals the expert said they used and were in so many of their photos? defense attorney attridge found someone who knew the same sign. >> do you recognize that man? >> that's our president. >> he's gesturing the same way as some of the hand signs in the exhibits that you were shown by the prosecutor, is that right? >> correct. >> and in your endeavors on the gang suppression team, you never monitored the bird rock bandits, is that right? >> never heard of them. >> reporter: even the name bird rock bandits was about as frightening as a small school boy. it was an elementary school nickname now being twisted into something sinister, at least that's what the defense argued. the decision, gang enhancement or not, would be up to the judge. if he said yes, it would equate the bandits with the most hardened criminals in the state.
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it would add ten years, half their lives so far, to any sentence they ultimately received. the arguments ended. >> the case in part because of the issues -- >> reporter: the tension in the room was palpable. and the judge withdrew to decide. coming up, the court hears from the judge. and emery's mom. >> emery's my treasure. our family's broken.
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la jolla, california, long the sleepy enclave of the wealthy to-do was shaken by the brutal beating and death of the blossoming pro surfer emery kauanui. and among those who may have been a little smug about the place, a little soul searching. as one shock

Dateline NBC
NBC September 6, 2010 2:30am-3:30am EDT

News/Business. Investigative journalism. (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Jenny 8, California 8, Hank Hendricks 7, Seth Cravens 7, Us 5, Jenny Grosso 4, New Hampshire 4, Eric 4, Hawaii 3, Kauai 3, La Jolla 3, Seth Craven 3, Sofia 2, Cindy 2, Snowboarding 2, Dave Ponsford 2, Gillette 2, Lime 2, Roche 2, Serum 2
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